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Alumnus' Internet Startup Connects Donors with Those in Need

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Grey Littlewood

Grey Littlewood ’12 is using his Carolina Law degree to help impoverished people around the world get needed health care, all from the comfort of his own desktop. He has provided legal advice and assistance to the social entrepreneurial startup Watsi (watsi.org), which connects donors with individuals in developing countries. Donors can read profiles of the patients to understand their health care needs, and then contribute as much or as little as they would like.

“Right now, we’re funding profiles faster than we’re getting them,” says Littlewood. The first patient profiled on the site was fully funded and received a long-awaited surgery - and many others have been fully funded since then. Littlewood points out that one of the benefits for donors is the opportunity to follow the treatment of the individual whose health care they fund.

As a law student, Littlewood became involved with Watsi at the request of friends whose experience in the Peace Corps led them to develop the idea for an online crowd sourcing platform to enable funding for needed medical treatments.

“At that point, they were in the organizational stage, so I started doing standard business for them. Over the past year and a half, the Watsi team has held a conference call every Tuesday on Google,” he says, acknowledging that their style of work suits the virtual entrepreneurial venture. He has worked on their articles of incorporation, bylaws, nonprofit status, health care privacy issues and federal tax compliance. Since the launch, he has also been fielding questions related to outside funding, licensing, and whether it is beneficial to change the company’s status to that of a social venture corporation. For now, though, they will remain a nonprofit.

“Right now I am the fix-it guy,” he says, admitting that he has learned a lot by helping develop a company that would receive and safely distribute funds for health care on an international level. At 26, he is enjoying the opportunity to engage venture capital firms, social investors and corporate executives from well-known companies like Facebook, while discussing the future of Watsi.

Littlewood and the founders are all volunteering their time to make Watsi happen. In addition to the 20 hours a week he is devoting to the project, Littlewood is seeking full time employment as a litigator.

“Right now we are focusing on riding the wave of publicity and staying true to our mission,” he says. The team is devoted to improving its model and continuously building connections with medical partners who can provide needed health care like surgery and chemotherapy.

Visit watsi.org for more information.

-October 8, 2012

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